Saturday, September 30, 2006

Foley on Clinton

"It's vile. It's more sad than anything else, to see someone with such potential throw it all down the drain because of a sexual addiction."
--Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), commenting on President Clinton, following release of the Starr Report, September 12, 1998.

(From Talking Points Memo.)

Kip Hawley is an idiot

Ryan Bird wrote "Kip Hawley is an idiot" on his clear plastic bag of toiletries that he was carrying through a TSA security checkpoint at Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport. Kip Hawley is the head of the Transportation Security Administration.

Bird writes:
At the MKE "E" checkpoint I placed my laptop in one bin, and my shoes, cell phone and quart bag in a second bin. The TSA guy who was pushing bags and bins into the X-ray machine took a good hard look, and then as the bag when though the X-ray I think he told the X-ray operator to call for a bag check/explosive swab on my roller bag to slow me down. He went strait to the TSA Supervisor on duty and boy did he come marching over to the checkpoint with fire in his eyes!

He grabbed the baggie as it came out of the X-ray and asked if it was mine. After responding yes, he pointed at my comment and demanded to know "What is this supposed to mean?" "It could me a lot of things, it happens to be an opinion on mine." "You can't write things like this" he said, "You mean my First Amendment right to freedom of speech doesn't apply here?" "Out there (pointing pass the id checkers) not while in here (pointing down) was his response."

At this point I chuckled, just looking at him wondering if he just realized how foolish that comment was, but I think my laugh pushed him over the edge as he got really angry at this point. A Milwaukee County Sheriffs deputy was summoned - I would have left at this point, but he had my quart bag with my toothpaste and hair gel.

When the deputy got over the TSA supervisor showed him the bag and told him what had happened to that point. After he had finished I started to remind him he had left out his statement that my First Amendment rights didn't apply "here" but was cut off by the deputy who demanding my ID. I asked if I was under arrest, and his response was "Right now you are not under arrest, you are being detained." I produced my passport and he walked off with it and called in my name to see if I had any outstanding warrants, etc. The TSA supervisor picked up the phone about 20 feet away and called someone? At this point two more officers were near by and I struck up a conversation with the female officer who was making sure I kept put. I explained to her who Kip Hawley was, why I though he was an idiot, and my surprise that the TSA Supervisor felt my First Amendment rights didn't' apply at the TSA checkpoint. She didn't say much.

After he was assured I didn't have any warrants out the first office came back and I had my first chance to really speak, I explained that I was just expressing my opinion and my writing should be protected my by First Amendment rights. When he didn't respond, I then repeated that the TSA Supervisor stated my First Amendment rights didn't apply at the TSA check point and I asked if he (the deputy) agreed that was the case. He responded by saying "You can't yell fire in a crowed theater, there are limits to your rights.

At this point I chucked again.

I asked how this was even remotely like shouting "Fire" in a crowd, and his answer was "Perhaps your comments made them feel threatened."

At about this point the TSA Supervisor finished up his phone call, and summoned the officer back over. They talked for about 2 minutes, and then both came back over. The officer pulled out his pad and asked for my address and I asked why he needed it. "For the report I have to file since I was summoned here" I started to give it, when I noticed the TSA Supervisor was writing it down as well, so I stopped and asked why he needed it. He said he needed to file an incident report too, and I took the opportunity to ask what the resolution of the incident was, did I do anything wrong? Are you going to ask the officer to arrest me? He said no, I was free to go, but he was going to confiscate my bag. I asked "If I did nothing wrong, why would you take my bag" He pointed to a posted sign that said something about reusing plastic bags (the MKE TSA was providing quart sized zipper bags to pax today) I let him know that I had brought my bag from home and would not be letting him take it. He then asked for permission of photograph it, which I agreed too.

While he walked away to get the camera I finished giving my address to the deputy, and he told my "You're free to go" Total time, about 25 minutes.
Hat tip to Tim Lee at the Technology Liberation Front.

CNN's given coverage to the story. Also see

Maricopa County's Trustee Sale Notices

A bit of an update from my post in May where I asked “Is there really a housing bubble?

Although I wasn’t completely convinced then, I think it’s getting a lot more difficult to question the evidence now.

The graph below chronicles Maricopa County’s Trustee Sale Notices over the past 11 years. The blue line is the monthly count. As you can see, this number is pretty variable from month to month, so I’ve included the orange line, which is a 1-year moving average. Presumably it’s a better indicator of trends.

Click for a larger imageHere are some descriptive statistics for the numbers in the graph:

Standard Deviation285.972168

Given that the past decade saw the bursting of the tech bubble, I think the mean is being skewed high, and thus the median and the mode are probably better indicators of a “normal” month in Maricopa County.

Friday, September 29, 2006

All the President's Words

Old, but still quite appropriate... narration by Stephen Colbert.

Foley sex scandal may get bigger

One of the pages who received inappropriate messages from Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) worked for Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-Louisiana). Alexander was notified of the problem, and he brought it to the attention of the House leadership (Dennis Hastert and either Tom Delay or Roy Blunt) 10-11 months ago.

And they did nothing about it.

UPDATE September 30, 2006: Alexander notified Rep. John Shimkus (R-Illinois), who says "We ordered Congressman Foley to cease all contact with this former House page to avoid even the appearance of impropriety." Also informed was Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who blocked a vote yesterday on a resolution from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi calling for a preliminary investigation into the matter and the Republican leadership's response to it by the House Ethics Committee. Boehner nixed the latter part, and a motion was passed to investigate Foley's conduct but not the Republican leadership's handling of the matter.

It's also now been verified that Dennis Hastert was told about this issue "months ago".

Dirty Politician: Rep. Mark Foley resigns

That was quick. Rep. Mark Foley (R-Florida), whose emails to a former Congressional page asking him for a photograph and his birthday were made public yesterday, has offered his resignation today. It seems there were also a lot of sexually oriented instant messages from "Maf54."

This guy was chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children. It looks like he may be prosecuted under laws he helped pass.

The timing of this resignation is such that the Republicans will probably not be able to replace Foley's name on the ballot. (For more details, see here.)

Another dirty Republican politician down, a bunch more to go.

Specter and McCain voted for a bill they believed to be unconstitutional

Both Arlen Specter and John McCain have publicly stated that they thought there were unconstitutional provisions in the Military Commissions Act which they voted for.

That's an admission of acting contrary to their oath of office. Neither of these men is fit to serve.

(A previous post on the Military Commissions Act and Arizona Representatives' votes on it is here.)

More White House involvement in Abramoff corruption

Ken Mehlman arranged for a $16 million contract to be granted to the Mississippi Choctaw tribe (an Abramoff client) in exchange for their donations to the Republican Party.

Ralph Reed contacted Karl Rove on behalf of Jack Abramoff to kill the nomination of Angela Williams to a post at the Department of the Interior which would have had oversight over Abramoff client the Northern Mariana Islands.

Mehlman, Reed, and Rove belong in jail with Abramoff.

(See also this previous account of Mehlman and Rove ties to Abramoff.)

The ineffectiveness of TRUSTe

The TRUSTe program is supposed to certify that a website has a reasonable privacy policy. But Ben Edelman has cross-referenced TRUSTe certifications with SiteAdvisor ratings, and found that sites with TRUSTe certifications are twice as likely as those without to be listed as "untrustworthy" in SiteAdvisor's database--meaning that they send out spam, distribute spyware, etc.

Edelman calls out four particularly notorious sites that have or have had TRUSTe certification:,,, and All four are heavily involved with spyware. Direct Revenue and Maxmoolah have had their TRUSTe certifications revoked, but should never have been certified in the first place if TRUSTe was doing the validation they should have been doing.

TRUSTe has long been criticized by anti-spammers for giving certifications to organizations that don't deserve them.

Ryan Singel has raised similar questions about TRUSTe's reliability.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

White House had more contact with Abramoff than previously disclosed

From TPM Muckraker:
Hundreds of contacts between top White House officials and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates "raise serious questions about the legality and actions" of those officials, according to a draft bipartisan report prepared by the House Government Reform Committee.

The 95-page report, which White House officials reviewed Wednesday evening but has yet to be formally approved by the panel, singled out two of President Bush¹s top lieutenants, Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, as having been offered expensive meals and exclusive tickets to premier sporting events and concerts by Abramoff and his associates.

In total, the committee was able to document 485 contacts between White House officials and Abramoff and his lobbying team at the firm Greenberg Traurig from January 2001 to March 2004, with 82 of those contacts occuring in Rove's office, including 10 with Rove personally. The panel also said that Abramoff billed his clients nearly $25,000 for meals and drinks with these officials during that period.

UPDATE September 29, 2006: The New York Times has picked up the story with more details, some of which are also reported in TPM Muckraker.

Congress grants president the right to torture, indefinitely detain

Today the Senate, following the House, voted to legalize the right for the government to engage in physical interrogation techniques that most people would consider to be torture and to detain individuals permanently without criminal charges by designating them "unlawful enemy combatants," even if they are U.S. citizens who have never left the country. As Glenn Greenwald puts it, Congress has legalized tyranny.

Both of Arizona's Senators (John McCain and Jon Kyl) voted for the bill, S. 3930.

Arizona's Representatives voted as follows on the detainment bill, H.R. 6166 (the Senate bill is S. 3930):

In favor:

Jeff Flake (R-District 6)
Trent Franks (R-District 2)
J.D. Hayworth (R-District 5)
Jim Kolbe (R-District 8)
Rick Renzi (R-District 1)
John Shadegg (R-District 3)


Raul Grijalva (D-District 7)
Ed Pastor (D-District 4)

Once again, a completely partisan vote in which the Republicans demonstrate their disregard for this constitutional republic. You can find the complete House vote results here.

UPDATE September 29, 2006: Ed Brayton has more at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

The founders of this country would have found this grounds for revolution.

UPDATE October 1, 2006: I fully expect the courts to overturn this, since the U.S. Constitution allows only two conditions for the temporary suspension of habeas corpus in Article I, Section 9 ("when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it").

It is also worth noting that there is some simplification, above. The designation of "unlawful enemy combatant" (UEC) in the bill is made by "a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense."

Also see Richard Epstein's testimony to the Senate (PDF) urging them to kill this bill, which they disregarded.

Martinsville, VA mortgage scam

The small town of Martinsville, Virginia (population 14,925) now has many residents named as defendants in a massive civil suit from Countrywide Home Loans regarding a $40 million mortgage scam. The New York Times reports:
In a tightknit neighborhood, where people’s social lives often revolve around their churches, Beulah Penn and her daughter, Sharon, were well-connected and trusted. Beulah Penn was a lay minister in a local church; her daughter, Sharon Penn, dressed hair.

Using these connections, according to a recent lawsuit, the two women and another relative in Indianapolis perpetrated one of the largest mortgage frauds in American history, victimizing dozens of local residents and, according to sources with knowledge of the accusations, at least $40 million in fraudulent loans — perhaps even twice that amount.

“Looking back, maybe it sounded too good to be true, but everyone knew them, and my friends went to church with them, people I been knowing for 10 years,” said Timothy Jacobs, a 29-year-old worker in a fiber-optics factory who discovered recently that he owed $200,000 on two houses in Indiana. “They said they’d be responsible for everything. Now everyone’s probably going to end up filing for bankruptcy.”

The Penns persuaded friends and members of their church to join an "investment club" to purchase homes in Indiana. They were told they didn't have to contribute any money, but would be paid $2,000. The scammers arranged to purchase homes at market rates, get bogus inflated appraisals and mortgages at the higher amount, then pay the market rate for the home and divert the rest of the funds to themselves.

One of those who joined the "investment club" found out about how the scam worked when he was turned down for a $1,000 loan from his credit union to buy Christmas presents--he discovered he owned five homes in Indiana with mortgages adding up to nearly $1 million, all of which were in default.

I expect a lot more cases like this will make the news as the housing market continues to decline.

John McCain's reason for voting for a flag desecration amendment

From a letter to me dated August 11, 2006, in response to a letter I sent him criticizing his vote:
Thank you for expressing your views about the issue of flag desecration. I share your concern in this matter.

I believe we have an inviolable duty to protect the right of free speech--one of our most precious inalienable rights and the linchpin of a healthy democracy. I do not believe, however, that guaranteeing respect for our national symbol by prohibiting "acts" of desecration impinges on political "speech."

As long as citizens are free to speak out on any matter and from whatever point of view they wish, as our forefathers intended, it does not seem burdensome to me that we accord some modicum of respect to the symbol of those precious freedoms for which so many of our countrymen have laid down their lives.

Some view these efforts to protect the flag as political demogoguery or empty symbolism, unworthy of the attention it receives. I see the issue differently. The flag represents each and every one of us, regardless of race, religion or political point of view. It is a point of unity in the midst of our great diversity. Tolerating desecration of the flag is silent acquiescence to the degeneration of the broader values which sustain us as a free and democratic nation--the ramifications of which are far more profound than mere symbolism.

For these reasons, I have support [sic] a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration. I voted for such language in previous Congresses, but unfortunately, the tally has always fallen short of the 67 affirmative votes necessary for approval. Additionally, I have cosponsored legislation to statutorily provide protection for the flag in a manner that will be upheld by the Supreme Court.

Again, thank you for your interest in this important issue. I hope you will continue to share your views with me on this or any other matter of concern to you and our nation.

John McCain
United States Senator
Senator McCain states that "Tolerating desecration of the flag is silent acquiescence to the degeneration of the broader values which sustain us as a free and democratic nation." But this completely ignores the fact that it is not only possible but certain that voices will loudly speak out in criticism of flag desecration--that's not silent acquiescence, that's fighting bad speech with good speech, which is the whole point of the First Amendment.

McCain explicitly recognizes that the flag is a symbol. It's a symbol that can be represented in art, language, binary data, and a Penn and Teller illusion. (Penn & Teller's illusion raises the question of whether the symbolic desecration of a symbol is any different from an actual desecration of a symbol.) To place limits on the contexts that symbol can be placed in or on transformations of that symbol is to place limits on free expression, and to place limits on the principle of freedom of speech that lies behind the First Amendment.

By his willingness to make a special exception for this symbol, McCain is doing damage to a constitutional principle. His position on this issue is just as wrong as his position on trying to protect government from the consequences of violating the First Amendment in his vote for the PERA Act, and just as contrary to his oath of office.

Latest Skeptics' Circle, #44

The latest Skeptics' Circle, #44, is hosted at Salto sobrius.

Arizona Representatives' Votes on the PERA Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass H.R. 2679, the "Public Expression of Religion Act," which denies plaintiffs the ability to recover legal costs in a challenge against government violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause. The effect of this bill is to make it more difficult for anyone to fight cases where the government violates the U.S. Constitution by instituting mandatory religious practices, by making those legal cases different from all others. In other words, any Representative voting in favor of this is implicitly advocating that governments be able to engage in unconstitutional religious activity and avoid the consequences and penalties that currently can result when they do. It seems to me that a Congressman who supports a bill to make it easier for government to get away with violations of the Constitution is a Congressman who is acting contrary to their oath of office.

Arizona Representatives who voted for reducing penalties and deterrence for unconstitutional theocracy by voting for the PERA Bill:

Jeff Flake (R-District 6)
Trent Franks (R-District 2)
J.D. Hayworth (R-District 5)
Jim Kolbe (R-District 8)
Rick Renzi (R-District 1)
John Shadegg (R-District 3)

Those who voted consistently with their oaths of office by voting against the PERA Bill:

Raul Grijalva (D-District 7)
Ed Pastor (D-District 4)

That's a partisan vote, and the Republicans continue to express their disregard for the U.S. Constitution and religious liberty.

You can find the full House roll call here.

For further information on this bill, see Ed Brayton's commentary at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Proposition 107: Protect Marriage Arizona Act

Proposition 107, the "Protect Marriage Arizona Act," is billed by supporters as an act designed to protect the institution of marriage in Arizona. The supporters' website says:
This proposed amendment to the Arizona Constitution preserves “marriage” as only consisting of the union of one man and one woman, and prohibits creating or recognizing any legal status for unmarried persons that is similar to that of marriage.
Arizona statutes already prohibit gay marriage, several times over. ARS 25-101 (C) says "Marriage between persons of the same sex is void and prohibited." ARS 25-112 says that marriages in other states are valid in Arizona, except for those that violate ARS 25-101--so Arizona refuses to recognize gay marriages from Massachusetts, for example. ARS 25-125 (A) says "A valid marriage is contracted by a male person and a female person with a proper marriage license who participate in a ceremony conducted by and in the presence of a person who is authorized to solemnize marriages and at which at least two witnesses who are at least eighteen years of age participate."

Now, I think it's absurd to argue that gay marriage harms marriage, but let's leave that claim aside. Look at the latter part of this proposed constitutional amendment--it says that "NO LEGAL STATUS FOR UNMARRIED PERSONS SHALL BE CREATED OR RECOGNIZED BY THIS STATE OR ITS POLITICAL SUBDIVISIONS THAT IS SIMILAR TO THAT OF MARRIAGE." This is a very vague and potentially very broad statement--"similar to" is a comparative, it comes in degrees. But no degree of similarity (even supposing that it came in easily measurable units) is defined here. The advocates of this kind of legislation have already demonstrated elsewhere that they mean to include civil unions and domestic partnerships in this, whether they involve same-sex couples or heterosexual couples. They could also use this wording to fight against benefits for domestic partnerships, custody contracts, wills, guardianship agreements, and so forth, where unmarried couples are involved. And no doubt they will--this amendment is backed by people like nutty theocrat Len Munsil (his organization drafted it), who opposed the 2001 repeal of Arizona's law that prohibited unmarried couples of the opposite sex from living in the same house or apartment, even if only as roommates.

The exact same battle is occurring in Virginia.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Scottsdale formalizes ban on helicopter commuting from residences

Scottsdale's City Council passed a zoning ordinance prohibiting private helipads in residential neighborhoods, forcing wealthy helicopter owners to fight street traffic like everyone else.

Munsil's lucrative 501(c)(3)

Len Munsil's Center for Arizona Policy (you can find their Form 990s on Guidestar under "Arizona Family Research Institute Center for Arizona Policy Inc."), though a tax-exempt nonprofit, has been personally quite profitable for him (and a few other people).

In 2004, the group's Form 990 shows $1,441,177 in revenue and $1,380,839 in expenses. Of that, Munsil, as president, received $209,250 in salary, $30,430 in benefits, and $7,450 in expenses. Executive VP Gary Paisley received $82,060 in salary and $6,660 (interesting amount!) in benefits. Director of Policy Cathi Herrod received $100,986 in compensation and $1,680 to benefit plans/deferred compensation. Director of Research David B. Frese received $59,380 in compensation and $16,848 to benefit plans/deferred compensation, and Legal Counsel Peter Gentala received $50,000 in compensation and $18,528 to benefit plans/deferred compensation. The Form 990s are only required to list compensation over $50,000, but the above adds up to $583,272, or over 40% of the group's revenue (and over 42% of expenses) for the year. Munsil alone received over 17% of the group's revenue (and nearly 18% of its total expenses).

In 2003, the Form 990 shows $1,127,825 in revenue and $1,085,812 in expenses. Munsil received $181,925 in salary (which means he got a hefty 15% salary increase from 2003 to 2004), $25,942 in benefits, and $3,817 in expenses. Paisley received $80,486 in salary, $5,988 in benefits. Herrod received $87,448 in compensation and $1,548 in deferred benefits. Frese received $52,250 in compensation and $14,472 in deferred benefits. The total here is $453,876, or just over 40% of revenue (and almost 42% of expenses), with Munsil receiving nearly 19% of the revenue (and over 19% of the expenses).

In 2002, it was $1,067,417 in revenue and $1,001,277 in expenses, of which Munsil collected $156,402 in salary (which means he got a 16% raise from 2002 to 2003), $22,708 in benefits, and $4,500 in expenses. Paisley got $77,000 in salary and $5,296 in benefits. Cathi Herrod got $62,090 in compensation and $1,116 in deferred benefits, and "Lit Counsel" Gary McCaleb got $63,083 in compensation and $9,764 in deferred benefits. That's $401,959, or just over 36% of revenue (40% of expenses), with Munsil taking over 17% (over 18% of expenses).

The Len Munsil Facts website points out that in 1997, the group's first year, Munsil's salary was more than half of its revenue. I don't have easy Internet access to the 1997-2001 Form 990s without paying a fee, but I suspect that's because the group's revenue was much lower. In any case, it is clear that Munsil has collected a hefty salary and generous annual raises from his nonprofit group. No doubt he now makes more as an attorney at Mueller & Drury, a firm specializing in divorce and personal injury cases, a firm which Munsil worked with to successfully appeal a ruling that permitted state funding for medically necessary abortions in the face of a statute that prohibited it (Munsil's group and Mueller & Drury were attorneys for members of the state legislature who filed amici curiae briefs in the case, Simat Corp et al. v. AHCCS).

Arizona Democratic Party funded anti-Munsil website

The chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party has admitted that the party gave $100,000 to the "Arizona Values Coalition" which funded the anti-Len Munsil website previously reported here. This comes after a denial by party spokesman Bart Graves on September 18. The site, which cost $1,250, has resulted in a payment of that amount to Munsil's campaign from the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

Look, Democrats--use accurate information about Munsil to discredit him (of the sort that's on the Len Munsil Facts website), and do so openly, rather than using deceptively-named groups like the "Arizona Conservative Trust." If Munsil manages to come from far behind and win this election, the Democratic Party's actions will be partly to blame.

The Arizona Conservative Trust also paid for anti-Munsil pre-recorded telemarketing calls before the September 12 primaries.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Welcome, Church of Scientology visitors!

The stuff you're looking for is here (though looks like the Clearwater searcher, who may or may not be a Scientologist but certainly lives among them, found it already).

Scientology visits:
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Friday, September 22, 2006

New Face on Mars images

The Mars Express orbiter has taken some new images of the so-called "Face on Mars" which were released to the public yesterday. Not surprisingly, they don't provide any support for the claim that this feature of Mars is an artifact.

(Hat tip to Dave Palmer on the SKEPTIC mailing list for the link.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Mandating lower fuel prices is neither environmentally nor economically sound

Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano has a petition on her website to send to President Bush to ask him to ask Congress to take legislative action to mandate lower gasoline prices. This makes no sense. The best way to reduce dependence on gasoline and oil is for the prices to go up, not down. We're taxing imports of Brazilian ethanol from sugar in order to promote corn-based products raised in the U.S., at the behest of companies like corporate welfare pig Archer Daniels Midland--how about stopping that? The Economist has frequently argued (most recently in its issue this month on climate change) that the U.S. should follow Europe's lead by increasing taxes on gasoline as well as providing incentives to shift to alternative energy.

Ellen Simon, a Democratic Party candidate from Sedona running against corrupt politician Rick Renzi in Arizona's District 1, has "protecting the environment" on her list of issues, but she's also pushing Napolitano's "lower gas prices" petition. Why, Ellen? (BTW, thanks for the link to my Renzi/Hayworth post.)

Elif Shafak acquitted of "denigrating Turkish national identity"

University of Arizona professor Elif Shafak, who was tried in Turkey for "denigrating Turkish national identity" in her novel The Bastard of Istanbul, was acquitted. The EU has "welcomed" the verdict while expressing the opinion that Turkey should scrap these "insult" laws. I agree--and the EU member countries which have similar laws should do the same.

Hat tip to stranger fruit.

Cory Maye off death row

Judge Michael Eubanks has ruled that Cory Maye's defense attorney was incompetent at sentencing, which means he'll get a new sentencing trial. He ruled that she was competent for the trial. There are a number of other defense motions which have not yet been ruled on.

Radley Balko reports that he feels like he's been watching a movie attending the hearings--no doubt this story will become a book or a movie.

Also check out Balko's update on the informant whose testimony caused Maye's duplex to be raided by police in the first place.

One-handed Rubik's cube solver

This guy solves a 3x3x3 Rubik's cube with one hand in just over 20 seconds. I think my best time back when I still knew all the moves (and I had somebody show me some good moves for solving the third layer) was about 45 seconds with both hands...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

New A. afarensis child skeleton found

Nature reports on a remarkably complete 3.3 million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis skeleton that has been found in Ethiopia. The skeleton, of a 3-year-old female, is being called Lucy's little sister, and will shed more light on A. afarensis anatomy.

More detail and photos at Pharyngula.

ONDCP places anti-drug PSAs on YouTube

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has placed anti-drug PSAs on YouTube. You know, those same ads that have been shown to increase drug use? Perhaps they hope that the video replies which YouTube users generate in response will similarly have an effect opposite to their intent?

(Via CNN.)

Len Munsil Facts website

A Len Munsil-critical website has appeared. It states that it is "paid for by the Arizona Conservative Trust" and has received funding from the Arizona Values Coalition.

They've gone back to some of Munsil's State Press editorials to find Munsil railing against student protests against apartheid in South Africa, calling it a "madness ... afflicting college students around the nation."

So far, they are missing Munsil's position opposing the decriminalization of cohabitation and oral sex in Arizona.

UPDATE: Munsil has complained about the "Arizona Conservative Trust" to the Clean Elections Commission, and his campaign is questioning who the donors are supporting it. An Arizona Republic article quotes Republican sleazebag and Munsil campaign consultant Nathan Sproul saying, "Who are the donors who are funding this thing? ... They are engaging in a pretty offensive money-laundering operation."

Sproul, former head of the Arizona Republican Party and the Arizona Christian Coalition, runs Sproul & Associates, which engaged in voter registration scams in multiple states prior to the 2004 election. Sproul set up groups that would represent themselves as nonpartisan "get out the vote" organizations in order to get Republicans registered to vote and discard or deter Democratic voter registrations. In addition to supporting Munsil, he also has worked on campaigns for U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, a former Arizona legislator who was a single-issue (anti-abortion) candidate. Sproul has received significant funding from the Republican National Committee to engage in dirty tricks.

I agree with the Munsil campaign's statement that the name "Arizona Conservative Trust" is misleading and deceptive, especially if (as seems likely) there are Democratic Party members behind the effort. I also condemn the prerecord telemarketing pseudo-surveys that have been done ("push polls") regarding Munsil--it's a sleazy tactic.

Chris Hallquist on the Lowder-Fernandes debate

Chris Hallquist has written a nice summary and evaluation of the theism-naturalism debate between Jeff Lowder of the Internet Infidels and Phil Fernandes, which is now available on Google Video. He agrees with the consensus that it's a very strong win for Lowder, while also offering some specific criticisms.

Efficient creationist quote-mining

The Discovery Institute has quote-mined an article co-authored by the National Center for Science Education's Nick Matzke 16 days before it was officially published in print (it had early publication online). Nick Matzke explains how the quote, pulled from its context, was used to misrepresent the state of the debate about evolution of the flagellum.

AzCLU wrong on school choice

Ed Brayton rightly criticizes the Arizona Civil Liberties Union's lawsuit to try to prevent Arizona from giving corporate tax credits for donations to organizations that provide private school tuition for students from low-income families. The AzCLU has previously failed in two lawsuits to eliminate the state income tax credit for individual donations to private school tuition organizations. There is no reason to believe this third lawsuit will be anything but a waste of money.

As Ed points out, this is not a violation of the establishment clause of the Constitution (or the Arizona Constitution's prohibition on state funds being used to promote religion) because no state funds are going directly to any religious organization.

I support the Institute for Justice on this issue, and this is a reason I've never given funds to the AzCLU (though I support the ACLU Foundation).

I am a beneficiary of the individual state tax credit--I annually make the maximum qualifying contribution to the Arizona School Choice Trust, which is the single most efficient charity I donate to (100% of donations are distributed as tuition payments for students from low-income families; salaries for employees and administrative overhead are paid by another private organization).

UPDATE (June 7, 2007): Judge Janet Barton granted the Institute for Justice's motion to dismiss this case, back in March.

UPDATE (March 12, 2009): The Institute for Justice won this case again today in the Arizona Court of Appeals.

Ed Felten responds to Diebold

Diebold has published a response to Ed Felten's paper pointing out security flaws in their voting machines. Felten responds, point by point.

Rick Renzi, J.D. Hayworth make list of most corrupt Congressmen

Rep. Rick Renzi (Republican, Arizona District 1) has made the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington's list of the 20 most corrupt members of Congress. Renzi has engaged in self-dealing, sponsoring legislation that has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to his father's business, ManTech International of Fairfax, VA. His father is an executive vice president at ManTech, which also has offices in Sierra Vista, AZ. A more detailed report on Renzi's ethical lapses may be found here (PDF).

The other Congressmen on the list, with links to more information:
Rep. J.D. Hayworth (Republican, Arizona District 5) makes a "dishonorable mention" for his Jack Abramoff connections and payment of $145,212 to his wife through his PAC. Hayworth's report may be found here (PDF).

Hat tip to Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

ASU student in immigration nightmare

Former Arizona State University student president Yaser Alamoodi, still a student at ASU, was arrested at 6 a.m. on September 6 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. They took him to Eloy (about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson), where he sits in a detention center.

The 29-year-old Tempe resident came to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia in 1996 under a student visa. He describes himself as "extremely secular. I was the president of my university. I have a commitment to everything America stands for, women's rights to civil rights." But because he married a U.S. citizen and they agreed to divorce in August, the divorce process invalidated his pending green card application.

And because his passport and citizenship are from Yemen, the country where his father was born but which he's never been in, that's where he will be deported to. His attorney says he can stay in detention in Eloy and fight the deportation for six months to "years," he can allow himself to be deported to Yemen and try to get a student visa to return to finish his degree, or if his wife stops the divorce process he would be allowed to stay.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Key characteristics of denialism

Pharyngula summarizes and augments a list of characteristics from the Give Up Blog common to those who deny the existence of various things, whether that be the Holocaust, global warming, HIV causing AIDS, the actions of Islamic terrorists on September 11, 2001, or other well-established phenomena.

Key features:
1. Conspiracy
2. Selectivity
3. The fake expert
4. Impossible expectations
5. The metaphor
6. The quote mine
7. Appeal to consequences

I recommend reading both the Give Up Blog's original list and descriptions and Pharyngula's extended list.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Greetings from another part of the United States!

Can you identify our approximate location from this sign (extra points for identifying the actual municipality)? It's not San Francisco (which has a Lippard Ave. in the Glen Park neighborhood). The answer will come after we return to Phoenix in a couple days. (And if anyone in SF has a photo of a Lippard Ave. sign, I'd like to have one of those...)

Hotel minibar keys open Diebold voting machines

Ed Felten points out that Diebold voting machines use a standard, commonly used key that is used for things like hotel minibars, office furniture, jukeboxes, and electronic equipment.

UPDATE (January 23, 2007): Diebold helpfully displays a photograph of the key on their website--which is sufficient to make a duplicate that works.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

More on Diebold voting machine insecurity

Ed Felten announces the release of his paper and an accompanying video about major security issues with Diebold AccuVote-TS voting machines.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Significant new information in the Cory Maye case

The Covington & Burling defense team has tracked down (via private investigator) the anonymous informant who caused the police raid on the duplex Cory Maye lived in. The account he gave the PI is significantly different than the account he gave officer Ron Jones which prompted the raid, and the informant appears to be an angry bigot.

Cory Maye is a black man in Missouri whose door was kicked in in the middle of the night in a no-knock raid, who killed Officer Jones in the raid. Maye was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death even though the prosecution's account contained inconsistencies, there was no legitimate reason for Maye's apartment in the duplex to be raided, and Maye says he did not know the person breaking into his apartment was a police officer--he thought he was defending himself and his young daughter. There have been many posts on this blog, mostly referring to the excellent work by Radley Balko, who first brought this case to public attention. Wikipedia now has a pretty good entry on Cory Maye, and there is a website,

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Robert Newman's History of Oil

British comic Robert Newman presents a very entertaining and interesting 45-minute performance about oil in the Middle East (at Google Video), including an interpretation of World War I as an invasion of Iraq and a discussion of peak oil.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster appears in smoke

The caption on this U.S. Air Force photo: "The United States Air Force C-17 Globemaster III Military Transport with the 14th Airlift Squadron located at Charleston Air Force Base in
South Carolina has flown away after releasing flares over the Atlantic Ocean. Smoke from the flare salvo reveals a crisp, dramatic, startling, and
beautiful visual of the turbulent air – including two vortices each with an "eye" – created by the C-17 Globemaster III as it flies through the air.
May 16, 2006, Over the Atlantic Ocean Near Charleston, State of South Carolina, USA.

(Hat tip: Jerry Goodenough on the SKEPTIC mailing list.)

Anti-drug ads have the effect of increasing drug use

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) contracted the firm Westat to perform a study on the effectiveness of advertisements designed to discourage drug use among teens. Westat collected data from November 1999 to June 2004, and found that "greater exposure to the campaign was associated with weaker anti-drug norms and increases in the perceptions that others smoke marijuana." Those exposed to the ads in some groups, including 14- to 16-year-olds and white children, had higher rates of first-time drug use than those not exposed to the ads.

The government spent $42.7 million on this study, but the results were not what was wanted, so it ignored them, spending another $220 million on anti-marijuana advertisements in 2005 and 2006. Although the report was delivered to the government in February 2005, NIDA claimed it was delivered in June 2006. The General Accountability Office, in attempting to review the study, met resistance from NIDA and the White House. News of the study and its conclusions became public in August, and the government responded that it was no longer valid because it was old data. More details in Ryan Grim's article at Slate.

The results of this study are quite similar to the results of studies of the federal DARE program, which has also been well-established to have either no measurable effect or be somewhat counter-productive. It continues because it creates the appearance of doing something to address a problem, not because it does anything actually beneficial. It's make-believe federal make-work, yet another theater performance that wastes tax dollars while providing the illusion of benefits.

Hat tip to Jack Kolb on the SKEPTIC list.

UPDATE 19 September 2006: Ed Brayton has picked up this story at his blog.

98% of all eradicated U.S. marijuana is ditchweed

From NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws):
More than 98 percent of all of the marijuana plants seized by law enforcement in the United States is feral hemp not cultivated cannabis, according to newly released data by the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program and the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics.

According to the data, available online at:, of the estimated 223 million marijuana plants destroyed by law enforcement in 2005, approximately 219 million were classified as "ditchweed," a term the agency uses to define "wild, scattered marijuana plants [with] no evidence of planting, fertilizing, or tending." Unlike cultivated marijuana, feral hemp contains virtually no detectable levels of THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis, and does not contribute to the black market marijuana trade.

Previous DEA reports have indicated that between 98 and 99 percent of all the marijuana plants eradicated by US law enforcement is ditchweed.
A single recent example from Prescott, Arizona was where two seniors watering an "attractive weed" between their residences were surprised to learn from a Yavapai County Sheriff's Deputy that they were cultivating marijuana.

(Hat tip to Dave Palmer on the SKEPTIC mailing list, who offers the comment that it looks like the War on Drugs is going about as well as the War on Terror.)

Rumsfeld: I'll fire the next person who talks about the need for a post-war plan

According to Army Brigadier General Mark Scheid, Donald Rumsfeld refused to listen to anyone who suggested that a plan was needed for what to do in Iraq after invasion, and even threatened to fire the next person who brought up the subject:
Months before the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld forbade military strategists from developing plans for securing a post-war Iraq, the retiring commander of the Army Transportation Corps said Thursday.

In fact, said Brig. Gen. Mark Scheid, Rumsfeld said "he would fire the next person" who talked about the need for a post-war plan.
Rumsfeld should be held accountable for the thousands of deaths this choice has caused.

Friday, September 08, 2006

John Horgan criticizes Adler's Newsweek piece on "The New Naysayers"

Science writer John Horgan (author of the excellent book Rational Mysticism) weighs in on Jerry Adler's "The New Naysayers" in Newsweek, an article about Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris:
As I expected—can it be otherwise for a mass-market essayist?–he panders to his audience, which is after all predominantly religious. (Adler notes that a recent Newsweek poll found that 92 percent of Americans believe in God and only 37 would vote for an atheist for President.) He does a fair job of summarizing the “highly inflammatory” arguments of Dennett/Dawkins/Harris, namely, that religions make false and contradictory claims and spur people to commit destructive acts. But Adler not-so-subtly distances himself from the skeptics’ viewpoints.
And what is Adler really saying here? Just this: we must give a pass to delusional beliefs that are held sincerely by millions of people, especially if they are Newsweek subscribers. I have my differences with Dawkins et al, but I admire their courage, especially compared to the cowardice that afflicts pop-culture intellectuals like Adler when they write about religion.
P.Z. Myers has are more detailed critique of the Newsweek piece here.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

McCain endorses religious right theocrat candidate Len Munsil

John McCain continues his pandering to the religious right by endorsing Republican candidate for Governor of Arizona, Len Munsil. Munsil, who attended Arizona State University at the same time I did, was editor of the ASU newspaper, the State Press. Now he runs an extremist religious right policy organization, the Center for Arizona Policy, which opposed the removal of Arizona's laws banning cohabitation and oral sex. (They were removed anyway, by a moderate female Republican Governor, Jane Dee Hull.) Munsil drafted Arizona's law on marriage (which defines marriage to preclude gay marriage) and is behind Proposition 107, the Protect Marriage Arizona Amendment, which amends the Arizona Constitution to prohibit the creation of civil unions or the granting of any legal status for unmarried persons that is similar to marriage.

I've previously written about Munsil here, where I describe how he refused to print a letter to the editor I wrote criticizing factual errors in an editorial he wrote in the State Press.

You can find out more about Munsil and his supporters and detractors at this Arizona Republic blog entry, "Munsil: I'm a Reagan, Kyl-style Republican." I've left a number of comments there.

Arizona Republicans accuse RNC chairman Ken Mehlman of lying

Rep. Jim Kolbe (R, AZ District 8) is not running for re-election, so there are five Republicans seeking the nomination. Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, in a meeting with four of those five and a representative of the fifth in Tucson on March 30, told them that the RNC would not intervene in the primaries, but rather would devote its funds to assisting the campaigns of whoever the local Republicans of District 8 selected to represent them. The RNC changed its mind, however, and spent $122,000 on advertising for candidate Steve Huffman, its preferred candidate.

Randy Graf, who is the current front-runner for the nomination, issued a joint press release with the other Republican candidates (minus Huffman) condemning Mehlman and the RNC for their dishonesty and broken promise.

Huffman has criticized Graf for being slow to fire a campaign manager who had a conviction for "corrupting young girls" but has in turn been embarrassed by allegations that his own campaign treasurer, Bill Arnold, took photos through the windows of the home of Huffman's ex-wife, state senator Toni Hellon. The photos were used to create a website apparently designed to discredit her if Huffman were to have run against her for her state legislative position. Hellon has sued Arnold for invasion of privacy, but apparently supports her ex-husband's nomination.

Graf is also a member of the Minuteman Project.

District 8 is fairly evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, with the former having about a 5% advantage. Looks like it will be a dirty race.

Investigative reporter attacked by real estate scammers

KTLA (Los Angeles) reporter John Mattes was attacked by Assad "Sam" Suleiman and his wife, Rosa Amelia Barraza, while attempting to interview Brian Phillips about Suleiman's violence directed at Phillips. Suleiman had been the subject of a July story by Mattes, showing that he had forged documents to purchase homes with the identities of other people, and was renting or leasing them out. Mattes ends up with a bloodied face and cuts to his eye from Suleiman attempting to gouge his eyes out.

Barraza keeps up a nearly continuous stream of verbal abuse after pouring a bottle of water on the camera, hitting Mattes in the face with it, stealing a microphone from the cameraman, and threatening to get a gun and to send Mattes to Tijuana or Ensenada.

Monday, September 04, 2006

"Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin killed by wild animal

It was just a matter of time, but the "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray, not a crocodile or a poisonous snake. While filming his show at Batt Reef off the coast of Queensland, Australia, he swam up too close on a stingray and the poisonous barb at the end of its tail penetrated his chest and heart. CPR was administered by crew members, but Irwin was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. He was 44 years old.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Responding to Holocaust Deniers

Orac at Respectful Insolence recently commented on how he first got involved in responding to Holocaust deniers. In reading his commentary, I was reminded of my own limited involvement on GEnie and Usenet's alt.revisionism in responding to the Holocaust deniers, at a time when Bradley Smith's organization, Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust (CODOH) was placing full-page ads in student newspapers at universities across the United States. I did a Google Groups search and found this posting that I made on alt.revisionism in response to some people who were attacking Holocaust deniers using namecalling and without offering facts or evidence to refute their claims. As it turns out, Orac was also a contributor to this thread, as were the Scientology-supported "random poetry" bots, which forged the names of major contributors to various newsgroups in an attempt to drown them out and make the groups unreadable. (Read Scientology defector Tory Bezazian's account of the spamming of Usenet.)

This posting led to a short debate with science writer Andrew Skolnick, who strongly disagreed with me--his opinion was that Holocaust deniers should get nothing but ridicule, and no one should bother trying to respond to them. I think this is the wrong approach to Holocaust denial, the wrong approach to creationism, the wrong approach to 9/11 conspiracy theories, and the wrong approach to Scientology, for reasons I give below. I do agree that it can be a bad idea to give advocates of crackpottery wider exposure or a respectable forum, but there are plenty of fora on the Internet and elsewhere where these bad ideas should be responded to with good and accurate information.

James J. Lippard
Fri, Sep 24 1999 12:00 am
Email: (James J. Lippard)
sci.skeptic, alt.revisionism

I first encountered claims that the Holocaust never happened sometime during my undergraduate years in college. At that time, I had recently abandoned the religious faith of my family, and I had gone from being a somewhat gullible believer to a somewhat militant atheist. I felt that I had been betrayed by authority figures in my life, and I set out to find the facts for myself. I was prepared to find that "everything I know is wrong."

Fortunately, my first exposure to Holocaust deniers was on the GEnie online service, where there were some extremely well-informed people responding to the Holocaust deniers with facts. For me, the sometimes emotional appeals were the kinds of argumentative techniques I had come to distrust, and those who clearly had facts at their disposal were the ones to be relied upon. While the Holocaust deniers tried to present themselves as being cool, dispassionate observers presenting the hard facts, it quickly became obvious that their collection of facts was similar to the collection of facts of creationists which I had been fooled by earlier in my life.

I've never spent a whole lot of effort on examining the history of the Holocaust, primarily because I was devoting my effort to other things, and because I saw that people like Ken McVay, Jamie McCarthy, and Danny Keren on alt.revisionism seemed to have things well in hand. (My big "bogus" issues which I've done a large amount of research on are creationism and Scientology; the patterns of delusion and deception seem to be pretty much the same.)

What has prompted me to write this is that I fear that there may be others here who are in a situation like I was when I first encountered this stuff. This present discussion seems to be dominated by emotional responses and namecalling, by claims that Holocaust deniers are Nazis, that they should be silenced, driven off, or even thrown in jail. I suspect that I would have taken the Holocaust deniers much more seriously in my younger days if that had been the nature of the responses to them on the GEnie service. Those of you are responding in that manner, please give this some thought. If you don't have the facts at your disposal to respond to the actual claims being made, then maybe you should leave the bulk of the responding to those who do. I'm not saying there is no place for the emotional response, or for pointing out what you see as the ultimate consequences of the views being expressed, or the motivations behind them--but just keep in mind who may be in the audience and how they may react to what you are saying. You may be accomplishing exactly the opposite of what you want.

Jim Lippard
Unsolicited bulk email charge: $500/message. Don't send me any.
PGP Fingerprint: 0C1F FE18 D311 1792 5EA8 43C8 7AD2 B485 DE75 841C

Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests 15 aliens in Roswell working for U.S. military contractor

I guess the skeptics were wrong on this one. Turns out the aliens were in Hangar 1083, not Hangar 18.

(Via jwz's blog.)

The hypocrisy of the crowd

In 2000, an article about "The Secret FISA Court: Rubber Stamping Our Rights" created outrage and prompted comments like this:

This is beyond frightening. Thank you for this find.

This does not bode well for continued freedom. Franz Kafka would have judged this too wild to fictionalize. But for us - it’s real.

and this:
Any chance of Bush rolling some of this back? It sounds amazing on its face.
But today, when there's warrantless NSA surveillance that makes the FISA Court look like significant judicial oversight, the comments are like this:
Privacy is a false argument and has been for some time. Your insurance company and the credit bureaus have more on you than the feds do and you can do nothing about it. I would rather be secure knowing that the feds were looking over my shoulder and keeping me safe. I have nothing to hide, and in times of war, these steps are necessary.
So when Clinton engages in eavesdropping (rubber stamped by the FISA Court), it's a threat to the republic, but when Bush does it (without any judicial oversight), it's no problem.

Hat tip to Gene Healy at Cato, by way of The Agitator.